Mar 8, 2019

Ferruginous Pygmy Owl

The Ferruginous Pygmy Owl. Can you hold its gaze?
The Ferruginous Pygmy Owl. Can you hold its gaze?

Ferruginous Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium brasilianum)

The Ferruginous Pygmy Owl is a small owl (typically 15 cm) that is generally “ferruginous” in color. Its distribution extends from south-central United States (where it is considered endangered) through the lowlands of the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific, to Argentina. Its population in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve is declining, which is why we are honored to protect them in our network of private nature reserves

Protection status:The Ferruginous Pygmy Owl is classified as “Least Concern” on the IUCN’s Red List and does not have protected status in Mexico. Although its numbers are decreasing, the IUCN believes that the rate is too slow to be classified as “Vulnerable.”

Status in the Sierra Gorda: The ferruginous pygmy owls are still relatively common in the Sierra Gorda, and can even be found in urban areas. Nevertheless, their numbers have fallen significantly in the Sierra Gorda due to land-use change (urbanization of dry tropical forests and oak forests) and logging (which destroys the nesting sites for the owls). Moreover, fumigation against dengue and malaria and the widespread use of agrochemicals deplete insect populations upon which the owls base a large part of their diet.

For now, the species is sustaining itself and its unmistakable song continues to remain an essential part of the lowlands of the sierra. Nevertheless, because their habitat and food source is threatened, we must make sure to protect them for the future.

Habitats and Habits: The preferred habitat of the ferruginous pygmy owls are the dry tropical forests, riparian forests, and submontane scrub oak forests.

The ferruginous pygmy owls are active both at night and during the day. They prey on large insects and small vertebrates, including mammals, reptiles, and small birds that are almost as large as the owls themselves. Insects are the base of their diet, and the cicadas that sprout from the ground in spring are a delicacy and an abundant food for them.

They are highly territorial and aggressive with each other and other birds such as warblers, euphonias, and jays. They are also very unpopular with other birds: other birds will recognize the song of the owl and gather to mob and harass it. Its song is easily imitated, so birdwatchers often use it to attract small birds who seek to harass the ferruginous pygmy owls.

Age of young at first flight is about 27 – 30 days.

Conservation actions in the Sierra Gorda: By managing parts of the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve as sites for strict conservation, Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda ensures safe feeding and nesting sites for the Ferruginous Pygmy Owls in several of the private nature reserves. We continually educate local communities and farmers about the detrimental effects of agrochemical on insect populations, in order to protect their prey. Finally, we conserve forests where the owls are found by providing landowners with payments for ecosystem services in exchange for conservation activities.

The global population of the Ferruginous Pygmy Owls is at risk. Please support us financially and help us to conserve their habitat.



BirdLife International 2016. Glaucidium brasilianum

Feb 26, 2019

How it all began: Lands for Conservation Program

An article by Roberto Pedraza Ruiz, GESG’s official photographer and head of the Lands for Conservation Program, on the birth of this incredible network of private nature reserves.

In 1987, my parents started a grassroots movement aimed at conserving the incredible biodiversity of the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, which led to the founding of Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda (GESG). Having grown up with the Sierra Gorda as my back yard, I enthusiastically became involved with the project. It was natural for me to pick up photography as a tool for shedding light on the Sierra Gorda’s biological wealth and documenting its diversity of ecosystems.

In 1996, I was carrying out point counts for a bird monitoring project, which led me to revisit a very special cloud forest, one where grand old oaks and ancient cypresses reach heights of 40 meters with their limbs draped in dense mats of moss, ferns, orchids, and bromeliads, a place where I have managed to photograph jaguars, pumas, and margays.

To my dismay, I found this precious cloud forest in the process of being logged, which was perfectly legal but incredibly harmful nevertheless. Hundreds of trees had already been cut down, and, as is customary, the loggers and foresters paid the humble property owners a pittance for the rights to their forest. The shock of this experience spurred me and the rest of GESG to action. We stopped the destruction by purchasing this cloud forest and placing it under strict protection, establishing it as the first private natural reserve in the Sierra Gorda.

Today, we run a network of private nature reserves, devoted solely to wildlife. Thanks to these networks and your generosity, we are protecting sites with high biological value, giving ecosystems and species refuges from human activity, spaces where they are protected from humans’ ever-increasing demands for land and ecosystem services.

Your donations make this work possible by helping us to cover park ranger salaries and maintenance costs. Thank you.


Feb 12, 2019

Protecting Salamanders in the Sierra Gorda

Bell's False Brook Salamander
Bell's False Brook Salamander

The Salamanders of the Sierra Gorda: a family that needs your help!


The Big-Footed Salamander (Chiropterotriton magnipes) – Critically Endangered

Chunky False Brook Salamander (Aquiloeurycea cephalica) – Near Threatened

Leprous False Brook Salamander (Pseudoerycea leprosa) – Least Concern

Bell´s False Brook Salamander (Isthmura belli)— Vulnerable


Protection status: All four salamanders found in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve have Protected Status under SEMARNAT (Mexico’s Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources) and are listed in the IUCN’s Red List of Endangered Species. This is not surprising, as 40% of all amphibian species are in danger of extinction worldwide.

Status in the Sierra Gorda: The salamanders of the Sierra Gorda have lost thousands of hectares of habitat and their numbers are decreasing due to agricultural clearings, forest fires, logging, infrastructure development and climate change. Moreover, a popular myth that salamanders impregnate women has led to many salamanders being killed unnecessarily.

While the Chunky False Brook Salamander can make its home in somewhat disturbed habitats such as forest edges and rural gardens, other species such as the Leprous False Brook Salamander are extremely sensitive to disturbances in their habitats. The Big-footed Salamander, meanwhile, is critically endangered. It is micro-endemic to a small stretch of the mountains between Querétaro and San Luis Potosí (approximately 10 km2) and was last seen two years ago. 

Habitat and Habits: These salamanders lack lungs and breathe through their skin and through the tissues lining their mouths. Glands in their skin discharge mucus, keeping the skin moist and slippery, helping with respiration and thermoregulation, and making it difficult for predators to grab on.  

Because of their permeable skin, these salamanders rely on damp and cool habitats. They favor the temperate and cloud forests of the Sierra Gorda, and can be found in upper altitudes of all five municipalities that make up the Biosphere Reserve.

Cryptic, nocturnal creatures, they make their homes in the leaf litter of the forest floor, in cavities in rocks, and in the forest canopy in bromeliads. They are fierce insect predators and are most active in the rainy season.

Did you know that salamanders can regenerate lost limbs!?

Conservation actions in the Sierra Gorda: Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda protects all four species of salamanders in our privately managed reserves. By keeping the forests in these reserves free from human activity, salamanders can nest in safety and are not threatened by illegal logging. We also provide forest owners with payments for ecosystem services in areas where these species are distributed, thus protecting more habitats.

Amphibians survived the mass extinction that wiped out dinosaurs during the late Cretaceous period, about 65 million years ago. Now, they are in greater danger than any other vertebrate group. Help us protect these magnificent, prehistoric beings.

Big-Footed Salamander
Big-Footed Salamander
Leprous False Brook Salamander
Leprous False Brook Salamander
Chunky False Brook Salamander
Chunky False Brook Salamander


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